The Myth of Fuel Cell Buses

There are times that the hot air surrounding transit technology forces my hand, and I have to take a stand on what really should be a marginal, non-starter of an issue.

In reviewing possible transit services in the eastern waterfront, one group, the Central Waterfront Neighbourhood Association (CWNA), is advocating not just that we use buses in place of LRT, but that we use hydrogen-fuelled buses.  Their presentation material includes a PowerPoint from Ballard Power Systems who have been trying for years to make a go of this technology. 

According to a Ballard press release dated October 23, 2006, there are only 36 buses operating worldwide that have, collectively, operated over 1.5-million km of service.  Let’s put that in context.  In 2005, the TTC bus fleet averaged just under 70,000 km/vehicle, or 2.5-million km for 36 buses.  That is over 60% more than the total mileage operated by all of the Ballard buses running worldwide.

Meanwhile, worldwide interest is focussed on hybrid diesel-electric buses on which a diesel generator powers an electric motor through a power storage system.  Hundreds of these vehicles are running in many cities, and the TTC already has 90 of its first 150-bus order in service.

There is no question that small-scale trials of hydrogen buses have been undertaken in many places, but it is unclear how this technology will stack up against diesel hybrids, especially considering that far more work is underway to produce hybrid buses that do not require the special fuelling facilities of hydrogen. Continue reading